I'm back! No more muses, since Kyle took care of Franz and Forde for me, and then retired. And I have a few things to say to some certain reviewers:

InternalDarkness: Thanks for the review, although I noticed you said nothing about Neimi's death. That's understandable: I didn't try very hard on it. I'll fix it up though, and repost the chapter. I really like how you enjoyed my first battle scene in this chapter. Thanks for the support!

Pureauthor: Script format? Do you mean my responses to the reviews, or my muses talking to me? I thought that they were both legal, since many other people have used them without having your ruthless demands! …But, alright then, I won't have any more muses, if that makes you at least slightly happier. And yes, I know that Neimi's death scene wasn't well done; I was just too lazy to think something up, since long chapters are exceedingly boring. Thanks though! Oh, and there won't be any more character death for a while.

Brendan Aurabolt: Since when do you tell me who to kill off! I didn't ask for your opinion. I like Neimi and Garcia too, but I'm giving Colm a 'special' role in my fic, and I just couldn't bear to kill off Ross (same for Amelia and Franz, my two favourites besides Cormag, Glen and Valter). Ross will have some sort of role in this fic. I guess that Garcia could have been vengeful… OR he could be mourning his SON! That's another thing I took into account. And Neimi? You don't spare characters just because they're cute! Not me, anyway. But I needed the sole survivor of the village of Lark to DO SOMETHING, and Neimi would be absolutely helpless. Colm, on the other hand, is tricky and sly, or he wouldn't have – oops, can't spoil it, can I? But seriously, if you don't like this story, or give poor excuses for FLAMES, then I suggest that you find something more satisfying to read, thank you!

(Whoa, that was some rant I just made!)

Pallanza: Thanks! I'm glad you like my plot twists, something which I was aiming to be good! Keep enjoying it, and keep your eyes peeled for my next installment.

Maxmagnus: I'm glad you're enjoying it. I could, you know, have had Franz take a journey in Eirika's steed, but I wanted something really AU, so I didn't. To put it bluntly, the two 'routes' which the twins took don't exist. So, yeah, I'm glad you approve of it.

Lady Nephenee Ranulf – Thanks! You're kind of right about them. And I like how you mentioned Seth and Eirika's scene, since everyone else only sees the death scenes. I felt the need to give Seth a less calm side: everyone loses their temper sometimes, after all. Here's another chapter!

Shadow Amaryllis – I'll let your complaint about Neimi's death pass, though I'm seething inside. I DID warn you of character death, and you should be prepared for ANYTHING, especially if it's mentioned beforehand. Also, about your comment on Valter's description, thanks! I wish, though, that I'd learned the meaning of 'sadistic' before yesterday (it means to be intentionally cruel). I would've used that in the description, but I hadn't the foggiest idea what it meant back then.

emotionalanime – I haven't much to say to you, except that I like your praise. I'm glad someone enjoys it. And yes, I'll give Franz the bear (– gives teddy to crying Franz, who squeals and hugs it and then hugs emotionalanime –). Whoa, that was a fast recovery…

To top it all off, here's something you should all know: I'm very lazy, and for that reason I haven't been bothering to write more dialogue scenes – I just describe them. But I hope that the battle scenes, MUCH later on, will be more thought-out, you all know.

And here it is! My cliffhangers will at last be filled up in Chapter 4 here. Sorry, but it'll be fairly short this time!

Chapter Four: Reactions

'Halt!' ordered the soldier standing guard at the entrance to Castle Frelia. 'State your name and your business!'

'Ross of Ide, son of the great warrior Garcia,' said the axe-fighter in a bored tone. 'I've come to apply for a place in the Frelian army, sir. I have lost my father to the bandits, who now run amuck in Renais because Grado has invaded and torn our army apart. I want to help in the war effort.'

The soldier looked him over. 'Hmm. You seem quite healthy and muscular, for a lad.'

Ross beamed proudly. 'Well, my father has been training me, and he's an ex-military leader of Renais.'

'Ex-military – Wait a minute,' the guard raised his eyesbrows. 'Didn't you say he was Garcia of Renais?'

'Yep.'

'And he…died?' the man was shocked. 'I don't believe it. And yet, you look just like he did.'

Ross frowned. 'You knew him?'

'I served under him for a while, in one of his first conflicts. That was when I was just a lad, like yourself. Loved the fighting, he did. A born warrior if I ever saw one.' He looked distant. 'And he was, in a way, my mate. We got along well enough.'

He held out his hand, grinning. 'Call me Isaac. I'm sure your father must have mentioned me once.'

Ross frowned. 'Nice to meet you Isaac, but no, he hasn't.'

Isaac looked shocked. 'He hasn't!'

'My dad's been trying to abandon all that has to do with war for the past ten years,' said Ross somberly. 'I guess that included allied troops, regardless of how close he was to them.'

'I see…' Isaac looked crestfallen.

'Don't blame yourself,' added Ross quickly. 'My dad did it because mum died those years ago. He never spent time with her, and his shame caused him to leave the military service. The only fighting which he's done for years was protecting me.'

The Frelian guard seemed to cheer up at this statement. 'Thanks, Ross. By the way, you look a little uncomfortable on that horse, you know.'

'I am not!' cried the boy indignantly. 'I'm just…not used to riding, that's…all.'

Isaac grinned. 'Don't need to be sheepish. I can teach you. Besides, we could use every soldier we can get, huh!'

Ross brightened. 'You really mean it?'

'Of course. Just one thing.'

'Yeah?'

'Get off that horse before she bucks you!'

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Time seemed to have frozen as those words left Natasha's lips. Eirika's face became an unhealthy green. Seth was pale. Cormag flinched, clearly not expecting this. Natasha looked miserable.

'I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you that.'

There was an uncomfortable silence. It was broken, eventually, by Cormag. 'I had no idea. I knew my brother was uncomfortable about the Emperor's recent updates, but I never imagined…' His voice faltered.

'The Sacred Stones… are you sure, Natasha?' Eirika asked, looking blank.

'Are you telling the truth?' added Seth sternly, looked at the cleric with hard eyes. 'Give us proof you're not lying to us, like those other traitors!'

Natasha looked at him evenly. 'I haven't any proof but my word. It is your choice, whether or not you choose to believe me.'

Cormag nodded in agreement, then added: 'I will tell you this, Princess Eirika, General Seth – very few of us approve of what His Majesty is doing. My brother disapproves. So do I. And so do General Duessel and Dame Selena.'

'Selena?' The name was unfamiliar to Eirika.

'Mage-knight General Selena, Fluorspar of Grado,' supplied Seth.

'Yes, but,' continued Cormag, 'though Selena disapproves, she is, ah, shall we say… a firm believer in duty. She wouldn't commit treason if you paid her.'

'I see,' muttered Seth. His cool exterior hid his confidence at the fact that they may yet have allies in Grado. 'Well… if this comes from a close confidant of Obsidian himself, then I'm sure it must be true. Prince Ephraim has told me that General Duessel is an honourable man… if what you say is true, Cormag, then Duessel may be an ally. Where is he now?'

'On his way to Frelia with Caellach Tiger Eye, one of the new generals.'

'Frelia? But that means…'

'The Emperor is targeting Frelia's Sacred Stone!' gasped Eirika. 'We have to do something!'

'I'm afraid,' whispered Natasha through the dimming light, 'that it's too late. We can do nothing.'

And there was naught else to say. The two left the Renaitians, and it was dark once more.

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'Why?' muttered Colm in a way very much unlike him. 'Why didn't you wait? I took care of that Bazba…I brought you your mirror…yet you didn't wait. Why? WHY?'

His scream echoed in the mountains. He had only just defeated Bazba, hiding in the shadows with ease, and had left to find Neimi in order to return her mirror – only to find her dead, her pockets empty, and with her eyes staring open in some state of shock. She was gone. Gone, and never had he the chance to tell her that he loved her.

'Blast, Neimi… I know you were worried, but to wander off on your own… you were always such a klutz. You should've listened to me…' Fresh tears were threatening to leave his eyes again. Colm brushed them away furiously; he NEVER cried.

'There must be something that I can do,' he muttered, more to himself than to the corpse.

'Oh…but there is,' whispered a raspy old voice.

Colm spun around, daggers drawn, to find that there was nobody behind him. 'Who's there? Show yourself!'

The voice cackled. 'My, my, aren't you the crude-mannered, edgy one? Yes, there is something you can do.'

'SHOW YOURSELF!' bellowed the villager. 'I'll not listen to any of your words until you reveal yourself!'

'Very well…' said the voice.

The apparition that appeared before Colm was a stout little, creepy old man with swollen eyes and an unkind smirk on his face. He worn religious adversary, with a crest on his garments. He looked pleased by something.

'Impressive, Colm. But it won't be enough to be just angry, will it? Will that help Neimi?'

The thief's face hardened. 'That crest… you're a Grado soldier. You're one of those traitors who invaded Renais! But tell me: how, in Latona's name, do you know our names?'

'I don't deny it; we did invade Renais. But the Emperor ordered it, not us.' The man's expression seemed to become wistful, and then, it was sadistic yet again. 'As for your names… well, let's just say that I can read people's feelings…and their minds. Actually, I was invisible – I saw you in a fortune teller's crystal, and I realized that I had to track you down. Our fates, you see, are intertwined. More to the point, I have a proposal for you.'

Colm gave a half-bitter, half-crazy laugh. 'And tell me, old man, just what can you offer me that I would do something for you.'

'Neimi. Another chance…for her.'

Colm froze. 'What? Did you just say –'

'Yes, I did. I can resurrect her, using my master Prince Lyon's special item. Do you accept?'

Colm didn't ask why he'd mentioned the Prince instead of the Emperor. 'What do you want me to do, old man?'

'Riev, my name is. I want you to betray Renais and to fight for Grado; we may yet have a spot open for you amongst us generals.'

General… Colm stopped, and then nodded. Little consideration had been put into his decision. He cared for Neimi, and for her, he would do anything (except, of course, back out on adventure.) Besides, he may as well humour the mad old man.

'We have a deal, Riev,' he said emotionlessly.

'Very good,' Riev smirked, and reached into his robes. A dark purple crystal was in his hand. It seemed to give off a dark light, and it was surrounded, though known only to Riev, by a great evil.

'Behold!' exclaimed the bishop. 'The Dark Stone! Now, great matter of evil, and of destruction,' he began to chant, 'I commandeth thee, ye shall restore this corpse back its soul! Breathe again, lost one, for thou art alive once again! Riseth, and live yet again, thou who's life hast been stolen by fate's terrible plan!'

Neimi's body was floating in the air. A dark fog was surrounding it, seeping into the place where her heart was. There was a blinding flash of purple light, to which Colm had need shield his eyes.

When he opened them, Neimi was standing on her feet, her eyes closed. And yet, she seemed to be breathing.

'Awaken,' said Riev weakly. The spell had sapped his strength. He was old and not many years from death; Lyon was better suited for this ritual.

The girl's eyes opened, and she blinked. She looked at Colm, and smiled. 'Hello, Colm.'

Colm stared at her in disbelief, and then turned to Riev. He had actually thought that Riev had simply made it all about necromancy, and he had accepted. But now… he was bound to Riev. He could feel it. Magically, he was now a servant of Grado.

'It is done,' he said, suddenly unable to control himself. It had to be part of the magical contract. He extended his hand, and Riev took it. 'The deal is sealed.' And then, he found that he was feeling pleased, something that, before now, he would never have felt. He was now a traitor to Renias.

He was trapped, yet it didn't seem to bother him.